Regulatory body confirms 60 negative drug tests on horses’ hair samples

Revelation comes in the wake of Bolger’s contention that IHRB testing regime is not up to scratch

Jim Bolger:  said that the number one problem in Irish racing is drugs and urged the IHRB to step up testing. “I am concerned with the lack of policing in racing. It’s not up to the mark, it’s not up to scratch.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Jim Bolger: said that the number one problem in Irish racing is drugs and urged the IHRB to step up testing. “I am concerned with the lack of policing in racing. It’s not up to the mark, it’s not up to scratch.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Irish racing’s regulatory body has said up to 60 drug tests on hair samples taken from horses since the summer have been negative for prohibited substances.

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, formerly the Turf Club, has confirmed that a policy of taking hair samples from animals on race-day has been in place for some months.

The advantage of such samples in comparison to blood or urine is that they can provide a detailed historical record of drug use in a horse – including anabolic steroids – in some cases up to years after medication has been administered.

On Sunday an IHRB spokesman said it is the first racing regulator anywhere in the world to introduce such testing and that it has been carried out across a wide range of trainers in Ireland.

“None of the hair samples has returned results of any concern,” he said.

It comes on the back of weekend comments by one of the country’s top trainers, Jim Bolger, who suggested that not enough is being done to catch trainers using banned substances.

Bolger also said that the number one problem in Irish racing is drugs and urged the IHRB to step up testing.

“I am concerned with the lack of policing in racing. It’s not up to the mark, it’s not up to scratch,” the veteran trainer told the Irish Field.

He said he doesn’t believe there is a “level playing field at the moment” and added: “There’s a rulebook there, certain things are forbidden. They are being used and it needs to be dealt with.”

On Sunday the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association declined to comment on that claim.

It’s not the first time Bolger has voiced concerns about Ireland’s drug-testing regime.

In 2016 he was critical of the racing authorities here in relation to failure to test for substances such as cobalt.

“As racing in Ireland is at least as good as anywhere else in the world, the testing should be right up there with the best international standards and we are not at the moment,” he said at the time.

The question of drug testing came to the fore again last month when a batch of contaminated feed forced the withdrawal of Aidan O’Brien’s runners from the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe programme in Paris.

Samples of GAIN equine food products showed up traces of the cattle fattening drug Zilpaterol which is banned in Europe and is a prohibited substance in racing.

A laboratory in France discovered the substance which was subsequently found to have come from a batch of molasses.

However tests carried out in Ireland and Britain, including the LGC lab in Newmarket which has been used by the IHRB since 2018, were negative for Zilpaterol.

That was just the latest in a series of drug controversies that have dogged Irish racing over the last decade.

Sweeping reforms

They include high-profile cases such as trainer Philip Fenton who was disqualified for three years in 2014 after being found guilty of possessing banned animal medicines, including anabolic steroids, during a Department of Agriculture raid on his premises in 2012.

Sweeping reforms of the industry were proposed on the back of that but the pace of progress on implementing a policy that will allow traceability of horses throughout their lives has proved glacial.

Full implementation of the Industry Wide Policy on Prohibited Substances & Doping Control was eventually and unanimously approved by the Horse Racing Ireland board in 2018.

However it was only this summer that the IHRB reached agreement with the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine that will give its officials access to inspect unlicensed premises such as stud farms.

However it is understood there is still no agreement in place with the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the body which represents the majority of breeders, to allow such inspections take place by IHRB personnel.

Already though there is concern that a requirement for prior day notice before any such inspection, as part of the Industry Wide Policy on Prohibited Substances & Doping Control, undercuts the system’s credibility.

The IHRB’s chief executive Denis Egan has said the prior day notice element is “less than ideal”.

On Sunday, in response to Jim Bolger’s criticism, an IHRB spokesman said: “We are increasing our testing. We are the first in the world to introduce hair-testing on race-day.

“We have covered a wide range of trainers and as or now they haven’t thrown up anything of concern.”

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